Having gone through 2004 with 11 victories in 13 Tests and no losses, England blotted their copybook in the first Test of 2005 with a 196-run loss to South Africa in Cape Town.
One of the measures of a good side is how they bounce back from such a defeat.
But their poor performance has irked commentator Geoff Boycott, who has been typically forthright in identifying reasons for the downturn in form.
THE INTENSIVE ITINERARY
With scant practice opportunity, Key was not ready for Cape Town
Boycott's view: "It's stupid. Three Test matches back to back, no matches in between, no rest between Tests, and they only had four days of practice after three months off in England.
"On top of that you have reserves who cannot get into form because there's no cricket for them - people like Robert Key have not had a bat in the middle for three-and-a-half weeks."
The point concerning Key is a fair one. Thrust into the Cape Town line-up at the last minute after an injury to Mark Butcher, he looked ill at ease in the first innings and played a rash stroke when England should have been intent on survival in the second.
Contrast that with Key's immediate impact in the home Test series against West Indies following good work in the County Championship for Kent.
England do at least have a full week off before the fourth Test, but the downside of no cricket is that there is no further match practice available.
It is possible to keep firing despite a packed itinerary. Australia kept outperforming Pakistan in a virtually identical schedule though they did have the knack of winning a day early.
The home side do enjoy the rub of the green in these situations. South Africa were able to bring a fresh but match-fit Charl Langeveldt into the Cape Town Test and he responded with five wickets in the first innings.
Given their winning run, there was no possibility of England doing likewise amd even if they had considered a change, the most likely beneficiary, James Anderson, had only been bowling in the nets.
PLAYERS NOT PERFORMING
Boycott's view: "Andrew Strauss has played some excellent cricket and Matthew Hoggard has been tireless and bowled well.
"Ashley Giles has bowled alright apart from when he had that back injury. But who else?
"There have been a couple of innings from Marcus Trescothick. Steve Harmison has been a shadow of himself and Michael Vaughan is averaging 14 runs an innings."
Will Harmison respond to more favourable bowling conditions?
It is critical that Harmison, England's pace spearhead during the phenomenal run of 2004, gets back to form.
The omens are good. At the Wanderers and Centurion Park, he will get more bounce out of the surfaces and the increased altitude of the Highveld should give him more pace through the air and better carry to the slips.
Memories can be short. Harmison did not have everything his own way in the first three Tests against West Indies but given a trampoline-like deck at The Oval he took a match-winning 6-46 and 3-75.
Vaughan, a former no.1 batsman in the world, could also respond well to faster wickets. Everything he tries at present seems to go wrong and the small flaws in his technique are being ruthlessly exposed.
ATTITUDE TO BATTING
Boycott's view: "I do not think they have got the mental aptitude, the whatever-it-was- that Michael Atherton or I had, to bat for a long time.
"They are all shot players, they play their cricket that way and have got out of jail that way.
The game has moved on with, thank goodness, far fewer draws in Test cricket. Australia have become the best team in the world by grasping the nettle and going for wins - not by grafting.
Similarly, under Vaughan, the new England play their cricket positively and try to bat at a good rate.
What let England down in Cape Town was not their second innings batting, in which they saw off 123 overs, but their first innings which lasted less than half that time.
That said, the most experienced batsman Graham Thorpe retains the ability to bat for long periods of time - some of the younger England batsmen would do well to tap into his attitude at times.
Geoff Boycott's comments are a summary of his views taken from reports on BBC Radio Five Live.